The Smartphone Question: When Is Your Child Ready?

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Rhett and Krista Ried live in Mason and face a dilemma similar to that of many families-- should they give in to their child's desperate pleas and buy them a smartphone?

Right now, for the usual reasons, they are a united front.

"It's going to cost us 30-some bucks to add the data package," says Krista. "That's a factor. We're trying to save for college and lot of other things."

Rhett agrees, saying, "They have a computer at home. They have an iPad at home. To have a data package on a phone in addition to what we already have is overkill because they can use all of that stuff at home."

And besides, Anika already has a flip-phone. It texts. It calls. So why upgrade?

"Because my friends spend a lot of time on Instagram and we'll be going somewhere and she's like 'I'm on Instagram' and I'm just sitting here doing nothing," laments Anika, who is 12. "I feel left out because I don't have those cool games on my phone.

"It's a dumb phone."

She's right-- it is a dumb phone. But the dumb phone is much safer when it comes to internet predators and cyber-bullying, something Rhett-- who's a middle school teacher-- is well aware of.

"What people don't realize, is that most of the bullying that goes on isn't done under our eyes as educators in the school," says Rhett. "It's done outside the school using social media."

There are benefits though.

Rhett admits iPhones are being incorporated into the classroom, and Krista doesn't want Anika to fall behind.

"I want her to be on technology and use it, Krista explains. "It's the wave of the future."

"I started with the bad phone-- the dumb phone," explains Bill Reed, no relation to the Rieds.

The iPhone decision was much easier for another his mom Karen Reed, who much to the chagrin of her husband Aaron, upgraded Bill to the iPhone when he was 15.

"He deserved it," Karen explains. "His grades first and foremost. He doesnt have a job. His job is to be a student. As long as he's maintaining his 'job' then he's rewarded with the upgrade."

Her husband Aaron couldn't disagree more.
"I can understand having a phone, but I can't understand the iPhone with all its functions," he says. "It seems completely unnecessary to me."

"Times are changing," says Bill. "My dad didn't grow up with any social media other than face to face. Now it's more phone technology and Facetime kind of thing."

Which costs money. And for Aaron it has other costs.
"I think it promotes non-productivity and in general-- laziness."

Bill doesn't think he's lazy. He chalks it up to a generational thing.
"We do have our disagreements but like I said it's a new time and we kind of have to keep up with it."

"We spend a lot money every month to have these phones, Karen says. "The convenience of knowing I can get hold of him any time during the day or night, to me that's priceless."

So from a clinical angle-- when are kids ready for the smart phone?

Child psychologist Brenda Lovegrove Lepisto says developmentally it's between 12 and 14 for a regular phone, but it varies for smart phones.
"I would probably look at their social connections, says Dr. Lepisto. "How they can follow the rules, (although) I wouldn't necessarily depend on them following the rules because kids generally don't follow the rules with their phones."

Anika is a rule follower and her parents feel the pressure of giving their children what they want.

"I certainly want to be a cool parent but not to the point that it goes against our beliefs-- what we believe is right and wrong," says Rhett. "There's a line there obviously."

Dr. Lepisto has seen parents struggle with that decision.

"There's tremendous pressure to let your child have a phone," she explains. "You want your child to be connected socially. You want them to be involved in what's going on."

Okay parents, you feel your child is ready and you've now made the decision to get them a smart phone. What's next?

"I think the most important thing for parents is to have nice firm clear guidelines, Dr. Lepisto stresses. "When you can use the phone, when I'm going to take the phone and put it in my room to charge at night. and what you're going to have access to."

There are many programs to limit what your child has access to, but parents also need to make the commitment knowing what their kids are getting at.

"You have to monitor your children's device," says Jay Poupard who is with the State Police Internet Crimes Division and has seen the worst of kids becoming victims online.

"I think the parents need to get very comfortable with administering that device, meaning, if that child wants to download an application, they go to hit 'download', it should be your Apple ID popping up on that device and they should have to come to the parent and say, 'Hey, I'm trying to download this application and I need you to type in your password.'"

But that's just part of being a social media parent-- which can almost seem like a second job for parents.

"I don't have the time to monitor all the chaos that goes along with the Facebook account," says Krista Ried.

Now comes the scary part--- parents losing control once the child has the phone.

Doctor Lepisto cautions parents to stick to rules they're comfortable with and not automatically take phones away as a punishment.

"It works in the sense that it's very painful, but it does interfere with the relationship, in the sense that it creates fury," she says. "I just think it's easier to start out with having good guidelines and to use it for the function that it's used for which is communication and not necessarily as a disciplinary tool."

So what do the kids think?

Bill surprisingly deals the kids and iPhones campaign a harsh blow.

"To be completely honest, I think they should be older than me to be ready for an iPhone," says Bill. "I've seen the kids who are 10 and have iPhones and in my opinion that's just way too young."

Anika is still hopeful.

"I just sometimes feel left out. So, I'm not gonna die if i don't get an iPhone, but I'll just be disappointed because everyone else has one and I'll just be stuck with my dumb phone."


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